I often catch myself saying to one of the boys, “Can you do me a favour, please? Can you sweep the floor/set the table/put the groceries away?”
Implicit in the way I ask the question, of course, is the idea that it’s my job and that they are helping me to do my job rather than helping to do a job that just needs doing. This is not the ethos I’m consciously trying to nurture in my house, though. It’s a throw-back to my mother’s way of doing things. Not only did she do all of the repair/electrical/plumbing/carpentry/painting work, she did all of the housework, rarely asked for help, and was rarely offered any, more’s the pity. My father is much better now, but when I was growing up, he didn’t even clear his own plate from the dinner table.
Not on my watch, mister. No way.
Let me tell you, kids get readily invited back to this house on the basis of who clears his own plate after eating. It’s not about housework; it’s not about gender; it’s about respect. And I hope that when my kids visit other people, they are pulling their weight around the house.
But what will happen when they have houses of their own? A lot, not all, but a lot, of that depends on the here and now. My hope is that they will see a clean house as a thing of joy and beauty and just do what needs to be done to get it clean and keep it there. In order to model that, I try to avoid martyrdom, I pose housework as a set of problems that need to be solved by us all, I make the clock and the schedule the boss. Housework is just a job that needs to be done, and we do more of it before company comes over, but the house is usually in good shape.
I am a SAHM, for now, and for that reason, I do more housework than my husband. When we both worked, the division was more even. Maybe it will be again one day. It really does not register anywhere on my radar of things to fuss about. Maybe that’s because my husband clears his own plate.
Stephen Marche notes that while men have picked up a larger share of childcare and of cooking, they still are not pulling their weight with housework.
The only possible solution to the housework discrepancy is for everyone to do a lot less of it. … The solution to the gender divide in housework generally is just that simple: don’t bother. Leave the stairs untidy. Don’t fix the garden gate. Fail to repaint the peeling ceiling. Never make the bed.
A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.
Forgive me if I am not in a rush to embrace this particular vision of equality, but “squalor” is not and never will be part of the vocabulary of this house. Hell, no. There may be a gender inequality between the married parties, but all three of our boys do chores and will, I hope, grow up to think themselves capable of and responsible for the care and nurturing of all aspects of the household. Period.